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Happy Birthday, Cohiba

Nearly 800 Cigar Aficionados Gather in Havana to Celebrate 30 Years of Cohiba Cigars
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97

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"I don't think there is a difference [in the blend] between one factory that makes Cohiba or another," Tamayo said. "Our quality technicians check all these factories from the start, checking the quality of the raw material to the finishing touches." However, she did say that small differences may exist due to such factors as the quality of rolling and the rigorousness of the wrapper selection.

Tamayo has plans to bring the entire production of Cohiba under her direct control at El Laguito. Currently, there isn't enough space to expand the factory's production; however, construction of an adjacent building in back of the old one began a few weeks after the party. "I hope that the building will be done by the end of the year," said Tamayo. "You never know. But it will be built in the same style as the original factory."

The original factory with its neoclassical pillars and arched doors and windows was long said to be the former Havana home of the Cuban Count of Pinar del Río. It is located in an area known for its large, stately homes and lies about 15 minutes from the center of Havana. Many of the ambassadors' residences are in the same neighborhood. Recent research by Habanos, however, suggests that before the Revolution, the factory was the home of the Fowler family, which owned the Trust Company of Cuba. It was most likely built during the first two decades of this century.

El Laguito houses about 180 workers and produces about 2 million cigars a year. Rollers vary in number, from about 75 to 100, with another two dozen or so students learning the best techniques. The new factory will enable Tamayo to increase the number of rollers to well over 200, more than doubling her production capability. Currently, the production of all 11 sizes of Cohiba totals about 4 million cigars. Tamayo should be able to reach her goal of integrating Cohiba's total production at El Laguito.

"I don't think it is a better thing that we make all sizes of Cohiba here," she said. "But I think everyone wants to have his or her own control of their work. Personally, Cohiba is my business and I want to do it well."

She certainly did everything she could to produce fabulous cigars for the gala dinner and cabaret show. Attendees had the opportunity to smoke a Panetela, Siglo I, and Siglo IV as well as the specially made Robusto Especial, a cigar measuring 7 inches long by 50 ring gauge. It was finished with a "pigtail" at the end, similar to the Cohiba Lanceros. Only 850 of the Robusto Especials were made for the event. For the moment, there are no plans to commercialize this size, although another 2,250 were made for 45 special humidors, each of which was filled with 50 of the cigars. About 2,000 commemorative ceramic jars holding 25 Siglo V cigars were also produced. They are sold for about $2,000 a piece exclusively in cigar shops in Cuba.

During the dinner, Habanos Men of the Year awards for promoting Cuban cigars around the world were presented: Mohamed Zeidan of Lebanon won the retailer category; Jose Ilario, a publisher in Spain, received the award in the communication category; and Jean Dominique Comolli, head of the French tobacco monopoly SEITA, won for business.

A charity auction followed the awards, offering six lots of various handmade humidors, all signed by Castro and filled with Cohibas. The first lot sold for $37,000 to Swiss cigar merchant Rafael Levy. It included two humidors, one containing 25 Corona Especials, 25 Lanceros and 25 Panetelas and the other holding 25 Cohiba Coronas, a size only made in 1982. The second lot went for $60,000 to Zaidan and included one humidor of 10 Esplendidos, 10 Robustos, 10 Exquisitos, 10 Lanceros and 10 Siglo IIs, and one humidor of 25 Cohiba Torpedos. The latter was first made for a Cigar Aficionado dinner in Paris in 1994, and is not available commercially. Max Gutmann, the agent for Cuban cigars in Mexico, bought the third lot for $45,000. It included one humidor of all five Siglo sizes (10 cigars of each) and another humidor of 25 Cohibas measuring 9 1/4 inches by 47 ring gauge, another cigar that debuted at the Cigar Aficionado Paris dinner.

The next lot sold was not in the pre-dinner brochures for the event, since it was a humidor originally given as a present to Castro. The president decided to donate it to the auction after signing the box. "What am I going to do with a humidor of cigars?" he asked the crowd before the box was sold. "They were given as a gift to me, but everyone knows that I am no longer a smoker." The humidor of 50 Cohiba Robusto Especials were produced especially for the anniversary. Only 45 were made, and Castro's box was the first produced. Londoner Nicholas Freeman, the part owner of Hunters & Frankau, the U.K. agent for Cuban cigars, paid $49,000 for it. The following lot was a similar humidor (No. 30 of 45), which sold for $40,000 to fellow Londoner Edward Sahakian of the Davidoff cigar shop.

The final lot was one of 30 special humidors of 90 cigars covering the 11 Cohiba sizes on the market and designed by the famous Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamin. The bold, tall fruitwood box has a brass insert in the lid, with the figure of a naked woman. The lot also included the original oil painting used as a model for the humidor's top. Bidding began at $60,000 and quickly topped $100,000, halting at $130,000. For a second time, Zaidan come out on top. The money for this lot was earmarked for the artist's project in Quito, Ecuador, called the Chapel of Man. Castro described the chapel, with a large gallery with murals painted by the artist, as one of the most important cultural projects of this century for Latin America.

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